Glue’s philosophy on positioning: start early before others do it for you!

You may have heard the marketing adage that if you don’t position your brand, somebody else will. Well that somebody else may be market forces or worse yet—another competitor.  In either case, we can say with absolute certainty that the result won’t be the one you’d wish for.

Choosing a positioning will very likely be the most important marketing decision you’ll ever make for your brand. And once you have the requisite information—which may not be every piece of information you’ll ever know—we believe it’s imperative to take the reins. In today’s complex marketplace, a simple, differentiating positioning is more important than ever. And you can’t start early enough.

In Glue’s experience, a successful positioning (and launch) depends upon three things:

  1. Understanding the unmet needs of the decision-makers who will buy and use the product.
  2. Demonstrating how your brand solves those needs better than the competitors do.
  3. An unwavering commitment to telling that story over and over again—the sooner, the better.

Your brand’s positioning should serve as a guidepost for early strategic decisions and ultimately, tactical choices. What’s communicated at every touchpoint should consistently support the one single-minded idea that will set your brand apart at launch. And before launch, those communications should seed the market for what’s to come.

The primary reason that it’s important to start early is that positioning is about perception, not reality. Al Ries and Jack Trout stress the importance of this principle in their book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. They explain that “the minds of customers or prospects are very difficult to change, (because) with a modicum of experience, a consumer assumes that he or she is right.

A customer’s first exposure to a brand, which may occur before that brand reaches the market, can form an impression that may be impossible to change. At the very least, such an impression can be costly to overcome. 

One example of this can be found in the e-reader category, where Nook made an attempt to challenge Kindle. Nook had some better features, but Amazon killed it because it was second to market (not always a death knoll) and Nook never got out in front on the positioning conversation. While knowing what we know now about the marketing muscle of Amazon versus Barnes & Noble, it may seem that the difference was more about size and scale and maybe even price. But the problem started with poor launch preparation leading up to Nook’s introduction in 2009, long before Amazon was the amazon it is today.

The positioning process

The hierarchy of communication, shown below, is our useful construct for positioning development.  It begins with product facts and fundamentals and ladders up to higher-order ideas. This approach ensures that the product benefit, product positioning, and ultimately, brand character are ownable, believable, tightly integrated, and focused on the target audience.

Positioning workshops

Workshopping offers an ideal format for developing a brand’s positioning. By inviting the extended team to generate a range of potential approaches, workshops offer an opportunity to evaluate which positionings are working hardest, and then forge a consensus. Given the importance of unmet needs (as described above), at the outset of any workshop, it’s critical to indoctrinate participants on what is known about the mindset of your target audience. From there, the discussion can move on to product facts and fundamentals and an exercise to prioritize the same. Those that are both important and differentiating become the basis for positioning brainstorming.

And what’s the ideal output? Positioning options that are grounded in insight will by definition be relevant and compelling to your target audience. And because market research will be the immediate next step, they must also be testably different.

In another classic by Ries and Trout, Positioning, The Battle for your Mind, the authors reaffirm their philosophy, and Glue’s, that positioning is about molding perceptions, making it “not something that you do to the product, but something you do to the mind of the prospect.

And they cap the introduction to the book by tipping their hats to the adage we mentioned upfront–telling their readers that “if you don’t understand and use the principles of positioning, your competitors undoubtedly will.”

For more examples of big-agency thinking, without the big agency, visit

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